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CrossFit For Beginners: 9 Essential CrossFit Exercises To Get Started

If you have never done a CrossFit workout before, and you happen to observe a class through the window of a CrossFit gym, or you see a CrossFitter doing exercises at your gym, you might worry that CrossFit exercises are only for people who are already fit and strong.

While it is true that there are plenty of advanced CrossFit exercises and challenging CrossFit workouts, there are also CrossFit for beginners and ways to program CrossFit workouts for beginners.

But, what are the best CrossFit movements for beginners? Is there a good CrossFit exercise list that beginners can use to put together a CrossFit for beginners workout?

In this article, we will discuss whether or not CrossFit is good for beginners and provide a CrossFit exercise list, including several beginner CrossFit exercises with step-by-step instructions for how to perform some of the foundational CrossFit movements, including:

Let’s dive in! 

A hollow hold.

Is CrossFit Good for Beginners?

In general, most CrossFit workouts are high-intensity, strenuous workouts that combine cardio, strengthening, metabolic, speed, power, and plyometric exercises all in one.

For this reason, CrossFit for beginners can be a bit too intense if you are jumping into an advanced CrossFit class or not deliberately selecting beginner CrossFit exercises.

With that said, certain CrossFit movements can absolutely be incorporated into a beginner’s fitness routine.

As with starting any type of fitness program, CrossFit for beginners is best approached progressively and gradually, beginning with CrossFit movements that are easy to master from a technical standpoint and not extremely physically demanding. 

As you build up your strength, stamina, endurance, and power, you can progress your way through more challenging CrossFit exercises.

One of the benefits of trying CrossFit for beginners is that a lot of the CrossFit exercises are designed around functional movements and foundational fitness movement patterns that will help you in everyday life as well as build more advanced workout progressions.

A squat.

CrossFit For Beginners: The Best Beginner CrossFit Exercises

Generally, the list of CrossFit exercises can be divided into three different categories: bodyweight CrossFit exercises, barbell CrossFit exercises, and Olympic lifting CrossFit exercises.

Although some of the movements in all three categories can potentially be doable in CrossFit workouts for beginners, because the CrossFit Olympic lifts tend to be the most technical and the most unfamiliar to novice CrossFit athletes, it is often best to start with the bodyweight CrossFit exercises.

Bodyweight CrossFit exercises will get you familiar with how to move your body and activate the intended muscles before adding additional weight. 

Plus, many of the popular bodyweight CrossFit exercises for beginners combined cardio and strengthening for a well-rounded beginner CrossFit workout.

Here are some of the best CrossFit exercises for beginners:

#1: Air Squats

The air squat is arguably the single best CrossFit exercise for beginners to master. 

It serves as the foundational movement pattern for many of the more advanced CrossFit strengthening exercises that incorporate barbells.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged.

  2. Bend your knees and sit your butt back as if you are going to sit in a chair while thrusting your arms forward in front of you for counterbalance.
  3. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, press through your heels to stand back up.
  4. Complete 15-50 reps.

#2: Push-Ups

Much in the way that the air squat is the foundational lower body CrossFit exercise, the bodyweight push-up is a key CrossFit exercise for beginners to master because it teaches the ever-important pressing motion and strengthens your upper body and core for Olympic lifts and other CrossFit strengthening exercises.

Here are the steps:

  1. Get into the standard push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes on the floor. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
  3. Pause briefly and then press through your palms to lift your body back up to the starting position. Complete 10 to 25 reps.

#3: Pull-Ups

This isn’t necessarily one of the best beginner CrossFit exercises because it can take some people several years to finally be able to master a true pull-up, but it is a foundational CrossFit movement, so it is certainly worth practicing and incorporating into your beginner CrossFit workouts.

Here are the steps:

  1. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing away.  
  2. Pull yourself up by engaging your core, contracting your lats, and pulling your elbows down toward the floor.
  3. Raise your body until your chin clears the bar.
  4. Lower your body back down until your elbows are fully extended.

#4: Hollow and Arch Positions

One of the reasons that CrossFit for beginners is often a little intimidating is that CrossFit workouts incorporate a lot of gymnastics movements that you might be unfamiliar with.

Mastering the hollow and arch positions will help you get a sense of how to flex and extend your entire body as a unit so that you can eventually progress to muscle-ups on the rings or kipping pull-ups.

Here is how to perform this basic CrossFit exercise:

  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead and your legs and feet pressed together extended straight in front of you.
  2. Use your core muscles to simultaneously crunch your upper and lower body off the ground about 6 to 12 inches. Your low back, butt, and pelvis should be firmly planted on the ground and tucked under your body. This is your “hollow“ position or the flexion of the entire body. It is somewhat like a “V sit“ except that your body is more of a gentle curve and not lifted nearly as high off the ground as the sharp, angular V-sit.
  3. Hold the position for 30 seconds, or try several reps of lying completely flat and then bring your body up into the “hollow“ position and hold for several seconds before relaxing to strengthen your muscles and train your mind-body connection for this movement.
  4. Then, transition to the “arch“ or body extension position by turning over and lying on your stomach. 
  5. Straighten your arms overhead and straighten your legs and feet, pressing them together as one unit.
  6. Squeeze your glutes and lower back muscles to bring your chest and legs off the ground (your upper thighs will remain on the ground). If you are familiar with the “Superman” exercise, this CrossFit movement is essentially the same thing.
  7. Hold the squeeze and practice for as many reps as you would like.

#5: Kip Swings

A person kipping.

This beginner CrossFit exercise puts the hollow and arch positions to use while improving grip strength and developing functional mobility in your shoulders and back.

Here are the steps:

  1. Hang from the pull-up bar with your arms completely extended.
  2. Press your palms down into the bar while you contract your core to help move your body into the hollow position. Make sure your feet are pressed together.
  3. Use momentum to swing your chest forward while simultaneously pulling your legs backward into the arch position as you squeeze your glutes as hard as possible to prevent hyperextending your back.
  4. Actively swing back into the hollow position by pressing down on the bar and contracting your core.
  5. Keep alternating between actively moving into the hollow position and passively swinging with momentum into the arch position.

#6: Barbell Back Squats

One of the challenges of CrossFit for beginners is getting comfortable with weight lifting with barbells. However, you will need to master the barbell back squat to progress to more challenging CrossFit exercises. 

Furthermore, the back squat is a foundational lower-body strength training exercise in all types of strength training workouts outside of the CrossFit arena.

The back squat is like the air squat, but you will rest a barbell along your upper traps with your palms facing forwards.

#7: Barbell Front Squats

Unlike the back squat, the front squat is much less common in strength training programs outside of CrossFit workouts.

However, it is still an important exercise to master in CrossFit workouts for beginners.

The barbell should go across your deltoids and collarbones instead of along your upper traps.

#8: Deadlifts

The deadlift is one of the key exercises to master, whether you are interested in CrossFit as a beginner or just getting into the world of strength training.

It teaches the very important hip hinge movement pattern and strengthens your entire posterior chain.

Here are the steps to perform a barbell deadlift:

  1. Stand with good posture and your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides, and a barbell in front of your ankles. 
  2. Use good squat form to grab the bar with your hands just outside hip-width while keeping your back straight and chest up.
  3. Engage your hamstrings and glutes to lift the bar while you raise your body up to the tall standing position. Your back should stay straight, and the bar should trace vertically along your shins. 
  4. When the bar passes your knees, press through your heels to stand all the way upright.
  5. Sit your hips back again to slowly lower the bar back to the floor. Keep your chin up and gaze forward during the move and keep the barbell close to your shins.
  6. Perform 6-8 reps per set.

#9: Overhead Presses

The overhead press, or shoulder press, is challenging but an important CrossFit exercise for beginners to master as it serves as the foundation for many of the CrossFit barbell exercises.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand with good posture and your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your collarbones with your palms facing upward and your hands just outside your shoulders.
  2. Keep your core and glutes tight as you press the barbell up vertically. Your elbows should bend slightly in front of your shoulders, and you will need to tip your head back out of the way.
  3. After full lockout overhead, slowly lower the barbell back down.

Overall, CrossFit for beginners can be an exciting but challenging foray into fitness. If you are looking into how to manage a kettlebell, we also have a great guide to get you started: The Ultimate Kettlebell Beginner Workout.

A superman.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.